Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. They laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work digging out the truth. Please support this independent journalism today by donating to our critical Fall Campaign. We cannot do it without you. Thank you. -- Craig Brown, Co-founder

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

(L-R) Gail Boudreaux, CEO of Anthem, US Vice President Mike Pence, US President Donald Trump, David Wichmann, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, and others listen to an attendee speak to the press after a meeting about the coronavirus, COVID-19 with members of the insurance industry in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 10, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

(L-R) Gail Boudreaux, CEO of Anthem, US Vice President Mike Pence, US President Donald Trump, David Wichmann, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, and others listen to an attendee speak to the press after a meeting about the coronavirus, COVID-19 with members of the insurance industry in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 10, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

Coronavirus Pandemic Reveals Just How Devastating the Greed of For-Profit Insurance Industry Has Become

Remember: For-profit insurers are in the business to make a profit. Period.

Wendell Potter

A word to the wise: During this coronavirus crisis, keep an eye on every move of my old industry: health insurers. Behind the PR spin, they’ll be doing everything they can to deny care and maintain profits while making it look like they’re heroes.

Don’t be fooled by the industry’s campaign to make us think they’re good corporate citizens truly interested in your health and well-being. Take it from me, a former insider: what they truly care about are profits.

"Tragically, some Americans will likely die because policymakers turned the keys of our healthcare system over to profit-driven insurance corporations."

That couldn’t have been more evident than the speed with which the industry’s trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), corrected President Trump last week when he said that insurers  “have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments.”

You can be sure Trump’s comment sent shockwaves through the industry. Within hours, AHIP, the industry’s largest PR and lobbying group, released a statement making clear that was not the case, that all they would waive would be cost-sharing for testing.

Yes, just testing; not treatment. For many, treatment will be considerably more expensive than testing. If insurers let their health plan members off the hook for out-of-pocket expenses related to treatment, their shareholders and Wall Street financial analysts would be apoplectic.

Case in point: My old company Cigna says it will cover the cost of COVID-19 testing — but makes no mention of waiving copays or deductibles for “treatment.” Check out their carefully crafted wording here. This isn’t a mistake. Cigna and other health insurers stand to make money from testing, or at least break even, even after waiving coronavirus test co-pays for patients. That’s because the federal government appears poised to cover all testing costs, which suggests a significant reimbursement of testing costs is coming for health insurers.

Here’s more carefully crafted industry language: UnitedHealthcare says, “your health is important to [them]” and their top “priority.” But if you actually get this coronavirus, good luck with out of pocket costs.

One of the most-watched metrics for health insurance companies is called the “medical loss ratio.” The more insurers pay for care, the higher the ratio is. (It’s called the medical loss ratio because insurers consider it a loss when they pay a claim.) As part of Obamacare, insurers have to spend at least 80-85% of premiums on health care. So most try to keep the ratio right at those levels. If it creeps up significantly, shareholders run for the exits. Why? When insurers pay more in claims, that’s less more for insurer profits.

"When a crisis like this erupts, they get scared. Why? Because folks like you will see what these insurance companies really do and don't cover."

Remember: For-profit insurers are in the business to make a profit. Period. And they do better when you don’t need them or remember they exist. But when a crisis like this erupts, they get scared. Why? Because folks like you will see what these insurance companies really do and don’t cover.

As a former insurance exec, let me tell you: The strategy of moving Americans into high deductible plans has paid off beautifully for shareholders and top executives. But it’s forcing millions of Americans to forego care, to turn to GoFundMe or bankruptcy court due to awful bills.

This pandemic will finally reveal to so many of us how devastating insurers’ greed can be. Tragically, some Americans will likely die because policymakers turned the keys of our healthcare system over to profit-driven insurance corporations.

That has to finally end.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter is the former vice president for corporate communications at Cigna. He is now president of Business for Medicare for All and author of bestselling books Deadly Spin and Nation on the Take.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Schumer Endorses 'Inspiring Community Leader' India Walton as Buffalo's Next Mayor

The U.S. Senate majority leader's move comes as some key New York Democrats refuse to back the democratic socialist.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Who Will You Throw Overboard?' Manchin Targeted for Trying to Sink Democratic Agenda

West Virginians gathered at the senator's yacht to demand that he stop blocking the "popular and needed" Build Back Better package.

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Shouldn't Do It at All': Manchin Admits He's the Enemy of Democrats' Ambitions

The right-wing West Virginia Democrat and fossil fuel investor has previously confessed his intent to quash his own party's sweeping $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package.

Brett Wilkins ·


After Getting 'Stealth Bailout' During Pandemic, US Corporations Try to Kill Proposed Tax Hikes

"When it's time to finally put workers first, big businesses are spending millions to maintain their advantage and preserve the status quo," said Kyle Herrig of Accountable.US.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Disgraceful': Just 9 Republicans Join With Dems to Hold Steve Bannon in Criminal Contempt

The vote "reveals just how far the Republican Party has fallen" since Trump took control as GOP's de facto leader, said one pro-democracy advocate.

Jon Queally ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo